New Delhi, June 26: The central BJP leadership seems set to bring in Jagadish Shettar as Karnataka chief minister in place of Sadanand Gowda in the next few days.
Sources in Delhi and Bangalore said the process would be set in motion on Thursday, when BJP general secretary in charge of Karnataka, Dharmendra Pradhan, and his deputy V. Satish hold talks with the legislators and the state unit’s office-bearers.
But the exercise, the sources said, is more for the “sake of form” to show the impending change is being carried out through a “democratic mechanism” and after “wide consultations”.
Shettar, minister of rural development and panchayati raj in the Gowda cabinet, has been on the central leadership’s radar for various reasons. The principal one is that he is a Lingayat, like B.S. Yeddyurappa, and has the former chief minister on his side. With the state elections coming up in May 2013, sources said the leaders felt Gowda was “not cut out” to lift the BJP out of the morass it has sunk into with rampant factionalism and corruption charges.
Yeddyurappa, who has been straining at the leash to get his job back, is believed to be out of the reckoning because of corruption cases against him.The Lingayats, who account for nearly 22 per cent of Karnataka’s voters, had rooted for the BJP the last time because Yeddyurappa was projected as chief minister.
After his exit, the community — which influences politics with the institutional clout it wields through schools and colleges, charity endowments and monasteries — became restive. “The Lingayat institutions were hugely patronised by Yeddyurappa. Gowda didn’t show the same degree of munificence. The loss of state patronage annoyed the local Lingayat leaders. They sent feelers that the community might look for another political option if Yeddyurappa, or another Lingayat, was not reinstated,” a BJP MP said.
Another factor seems to be a reception accorded to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi at Karnataka’s most revered Lingayat monastery in April, sparking apprehensions in the BJP of a large-scale caste desertion. “The Lingayats are the BJP’s backbone. Take them away and the party vanishes,” a source said.
Gowda, a Vokkaliga, is not perceived as a community leader. The group, the second tier in Karnataka’s caste pyramid, has traditionally rooted for Janata Dal (Secular) headed by H.D. Deve Gowda.
The moves to anoint Shettar coincided with the state party chief K.S. Eshwarappa throwing his hat in the ring. “Why should I refuse the offer to be the CM?” Eshwarappa said at a meeting in Shimoga today, one of several he has held across the state in an apparent bid to muster support.
But Eshwarappa, from the backward Kuruba community which has also been a decisive factor in elections, said the central leadership would decide.